What has continued to resonate and remain central to my accounts of the residency in Varjakka is the proposition of there being ghosts present. I am not a believer in phantoms in their literal sense but loved the idea of ‘channeling’ the women who’d lost their lives doing dangerous work at the saw mill on the island, as a way of honoring that time. Twenty women and girls were killed in what was described as a ‘big accident’ at the hands of a boat driver, taking them from island to mainland at the end of a long working day. Whilst there I was ruminating on the heavy weight of patriarchy in such a tragic scenario; the driver of the boat was reportedly drunk and he fled the scene to avoid prosecution after he broke the mast of the worker’s boat, leading to it sinking into icy cold waters. I thought about the women and girls perhaps protesting against the sexist, capitalist, oppressive environment in which they worked by seeking revenge in the ‘afterlife’. So I decided to haunt Varjakka on their behalf.
The main house on the island was the best maintained building and where we worked a lot, but it was also the ‘administrative building’, housing the bosses and authoritative figures in the saw mill company. The remaining presence of hierarchy made me less interested in the house, once I was channeling the women. The rooms were designed like sets and I could only picture silent maids and secretaries in the rooms. I was more interested in being in the messy outdoors…
The women had an opportunity to send some messages through me; or at least, that’s how I told the story. Our haunting of the island manifested in several ways. I did a lot of walking alone and being with the wooden wreckage – watching it float, piece by piece, to the horizon. Resting, hiding, skulking, whispering.
And as a group we also discussed the idea of the ‘disposable body’ in a capitalist system designed to exploit (and then discard) workers – see Right to Maim by Jasbir Puar.
When dancing I felt compelled to close my eyes, especially after Hannah introduced a certain task where doing so was a ‘rule’. After that I found new imaginary places and people to channel; characters I invented based on my limited knowledge of the workers in the area at that time.
I spooked myself a few times by forgetting who was moving, me or the women seeking justice through my protest dance. Because of the island being covered in conifers (red wood trees with very limited ecology), it was absolutely silent in the forests – no bird song or activity found in louder woodlands – just the occasional creaking trunk or gust of wind. Hannah and I spoke about the deafening silence affecting our movements in the space(s) and that as women there would have been a cultural expectation of us to be ‘seen and not heard’ a hundred year prior. Together we designed and delivered a small ceremony to remember those lost (pictured).
Despite the names of the designer and the materials being on this memorial, the names of the women and girls who actually died are not here. Hannah and I collected some of the beautiful driftwood left from the mill and placed each piece on the sculpture whilst reciting the names:
‘The future belongs to ghosts’ – Jacques Derrida
‘The Future is Female’ – Lisa Yaszek